Menindee to get $5 million hatchery after native fish populations were decimated during summer fish kills

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A $5 million hatchery will aim to replenish native fish populations that were decimated during the summer fish kills in the Darling River at Menindee, the Federal Government has announced.

Key points:

  • The hatchery will also be a facility for responding to fish incidents
  • The council says the native fish hatchery offers promising tourism and education potential for the area
  • More than a million fish died in three Menindee fish kills, including Murray cod, bony bream and golden perch

The Department of Primary Industries estimated more than a million fish died in the three Menindee fish kills, including Murray cod, bony bream and golden perch. 

Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said the announcement came in response to the recommendations of the Independent Scientific Report into the fish kills, released last month.

“This has been done because a scientific report identified a problem, and this is a response to that problem,” Mr Coulton said.

“It’ll be more than a hatchery — it will also be a facility for responding to fish incidents, with infrastructure to support translocation and deployment of equipment like aerators.

“It’s important that we have a facility close to the river, and a facility that’ll create local employment and incorporate local expertise, especially from the local Indigenous population.”

General Manager of Central Darling Shire Council Greg Hill said the announcement marked an exciting step forward for Menindee.

“This is wonderful news for the Menindee community — a native fish hatchery offers promising tourism and education potential for this area,” Mr Hill said.

Dead fish loaded into a ute.

‘Important nursery ground for native fish’

A scientist on the independent panel said there was broad recognition of the importance of the Menindee Lakes to the ecological health of the entire Murray-Darling Basin.

“The Menindee Lakes system is certainly recognised as an important nursery ground for native fish,” said Professor of Freshwater Ecology at La Trobe University, Dr Nick Bond. 

Dr Bond said it would not be possible to fully understand the extent of the damage to the ecosystem until after fish numbers were analysed.

The Department of Primary Industries will embark on a monitoring operation to determine how many fish are left in the 40 kilometre stretch of river where the fish kills occurred.

Fisheries officers will use electrofishing to temporarily stun fish so that they can be caught, counted and released, but will have to wait until June or July when the weather cooled to not put fish under further stress.

“That will give us a bit of a base line to understand not just how many fish have survived of each species, but also what their age structure is like,” Dr Bond said.

“Of the surviving fish, does it include mature individual, say Murray cod, which don’t mature until they’re 4 or 5 years old?”

Twenty mature Murray cod that survived the fish kills were moved to the Narrandera Fisheries earlier this year and are part of a breeding program that will aim to spawn 100,000 cod per year.

It will be up to five years before those cod are returned to the Darling River at Menindee.

A fisheries officer handles a large Murray Cod in a big tank at the Narrandera research centre.

National Party ‘not chasing votes’

While the Nationals embarked on a cash-splash in Menindee ahead of the NSW state election, including $15,000 for a music festival, and $25,000 for the sealing of the Menindee to Pooncarie Road, it was not enough to secure the seat of Barwon.

For the first time in 69 years, the National lost the seat, and saw an 18 per cent swing against them.

The party received just seven votes in Menindee.

Mr Coulter, whose electorate spanned a similar land mass to Barwon, said the announcement — a fortnight ahead of the Federal Election — was not politically motivated.

“I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s also something that the local community is supportive of,” said Mr Coulton.

“I’m not motivated to do this as some form of chasing votes.”